Highlights Of The Struggle

Reports From Campaign Chapters Around The Country


Campaigners celebrate in Englewood

ATLANTA
by Jay Varner
The NAACP and the Georgia Coalition for the People's Agenda staged a rally against the death penalty at Fort Valley State University, a historically Black college in Georgia.

The day started with a motorcade from the prison where Georgia's death row is housed. The Atlanta chapter of the Campaign was invited to have a speaker and a presence at the rally. Other speakers included Georgia House Rep. Tyrone Brooks, who spoke against the state's plan to build more prisons. He said, "We can't build our way out of this problem." Rev. Joseph Lowery, the former leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, urged for more African Americans to join the fight and insisted that the movement needs Black and white unity. Rev. Lowery called for a moratorium on all executions and an end to rhetoric that blames the victim.

Campaign members made a push for people to get active in fighting Georgia's death machine. We plan on heading back down to Fort Valley to organize a group on campus that will be part of the growing statewide anti-death penalty sentiment in a state where the death penalty only has 60 percent (and falling) of people in favor.

The rally was empowering and made us all feel that if we join together and fight, the death penalty will one day be a thing of the past. The death penalty is on its way out, but the harder we fight, the sooner it will be over and the more lives will be saved.

NEW YORK CITY
by Lucy Herschel
Some 50 people gathered at the Rev. Al Sharpton's National Action Network (NAN) headquarters on August 3 for a community forum on the death penalty, organized by the Campaign to End the Death Penalty.

NAN Field Organizer, Dedrick Muhammad welcomed the crowd and gave greetings from Rev. Sharpton, who was still being held in a federal detention center for protesting U.S. Navy's bombing on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

When Illinois death row prisoner and Death Row 10 member Andrew Maxwell called in via speakerphone, a hush fell over the crowd. Andrew told how he was tortured into giving a false confession at the hands of Chicago police officers under the command of Jon Burge.

For hours, officers repeatedly pounded on his head, face and stomach. They pulled his coat over his head so he couldn't see anything and choked him. Andrew has photographs that show injuries sustained during his interrogation.

Audience members shouted their support for Andrew from their seats. Maxwell told the audience to keep up the pressure, and he thanked all those who committed their time and energy to the cause.

Other speakers included founding Campaign member Lawrence Hayes, a former Black Panther and former New York State death row prisoner; as well as a representative of the International Socialist Organization. The event marked the launching of a campaign to raise awareness about the Death Row 10 in New York. Activists will be travelling around the country to build support.

WASHINGTON, D.C.
by Chris Demers
Despite two ballot referendums by the District of Colombia that rejected the death penalty, the federal government is trying to impose death sentences in three current cases involving District residents.

Many people believe authorities decided to prosecute these cases under a particular federal statute especially because it allows for the death penalty. Tommy Edelin, Kevin Gray and Rodney Moore are all facing murder charges, with the twist that the alleged killings were part of a drug-related "criminal enterprise." This condition allows officials to prosecute the three under a federal statute -- originally developed to be used against the Mafia -- with sentencing guidelines that include the death penalty.

Edelin's trial was nearing an end as the New Abolitionist was being produced. It has already shown many of the injustices of the death penalty system. More than 350 jurors were rejected for the Edelin trial because they opposed the death penalty before a group of 12 was finally found suitable. And defense lawyers say the charges against Edelin are arbitrary -- and may be the result of prosecutors targeting him because he refused to help them in a previous drug investigation.

Members of the Campaign have been trying to raise awareness of these cases with the help of other abolitionist groups. Rallies and signature campaigns are underway, with more than 100 people turning out to several events. Local political leaders have spoken out on the issue. In an April 10 letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft, D.C.'s Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton wrote, "At a time when states with better records are instituting death penalty moratoriums, we believe that the Department of Justice should not disregard local law against the application of the death penalty within our borders."

We must fight to educate and change public opinion. There is much to be done to make sure that D.C. remains death penalty free!

CHICAGO
by Daniela Dwyer
This summer, the Chicago Campaign made a commitment to get more people from the South Side involved in the fight against the death penalty.

In June, along with Rev. Shears and the Greater Englewood Parish United Methodist Church, the Hyde Park chapter organized a "Live from Death Row." The event was part of the church's Family Day and included a live call-in from Victor Safforld. Safforld is one of the Death Row 10, a group of African American men on Illinois death row who suffered torture at the hands of Chicago police.

Safforld and his family are members of the Greater Englewood church, and Campaign member Louva Bell, the mother of Death Row 10 member Ronald Kitchen, also attends the church. Given these strong ties, the Campaign and the church organized this event to encourage community involvement in the abolitionist movement.

Exonerated Illinois death row inmate Ronald Jones also addressed the crowd. Jones said that he was living proof that the death penalty jeopardizes the lives of the innocent.

About 20 members of the church joined the Campaign, and plans are being discussed to begin a pen pal program at the church.

In August, the Campaign was invited by Rev. Jesse Jackson to help coordinate anti-death penalty day at Rainbow/PUSH national headquarters in Chicago. Broadcast on national television and radio, Marlene Martin, the Campaign's national director, spoke to a crowd of nearly 100 people about the need to build momentum against the death penalty. Mothers of the Death Row 10 and other family members were also on hand.

OAKLAND, CALIF.
by Elizabeth Terzakis
On August 17, Oakland chapter members participated in a press conference to draw attention to the case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, who was expected to appear in court that day in Pennsylvania. The press conference drew a crowd of 100 Mumia supporters.

The press conference was followed the next day by a demonstration in downtown San Francisco. At a rally of about 350 people, speakers addressed the issues of police brutality and corruption that run rampant in Mumia's case.

Oakland Campaign members also continued organizing on a new initiative to make Alameda County -- which Oakland is part of -- a "death penalty free zone."

In late July, we presented Alameda County District Attorney Tom Orloff with 450 signatures calling on him to stop pushing for death sentences. Receiving no response, we picketed his office. Orloff is running for reelection in March 2002 and claims that he is "sensitive to public opinion" about the death penalty. Since then, we have collected more than 500 signatures, and in late September, we plan to hold another picket and press conference at the Alameda County Courthouse.

Our intention is to dog Orloff wherever he goes and force him to publicly debate the issue.

We're also working on the struggle to get a new trial for Kevin Cooper, who is on death row in California. Cooper has always insisted on his innocence in the 1983 murders that he was condemned for. He has fought long and hard to get DNA testing on pieces of evidence in his case, but there are now suspicions that the authorities have tampered with the evidence. This case is at a critical juncture. To get involved with the Oakland chapter of the Campaign, call 510-985-2805.

AUSTIN, TEXAS
by Matt Korn
Austin Campaign members saw a victory this summer, proving the power of activism. Napoleon Beazley, a juvenile offender sentenced to death for a murder during a botched car-jacking, was given a stay of execution -- and by the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, which never granted a stay for any execution carried out under the watch of George W. Bush.

Austin Campaign members have also been busy fighting against the persecution of three men suspected of killing four teenage girls in the "Yogurt Shop Murders." Maurice Pierce, Michael Scott and Robert Springsteen are fighting for their lives against an injustice system that is railroading them onto the gurney.

After the slayings in 1991, an eight-year investigation produced no real suspects and left the police department baffled. Finally in 1999, the police charged four men with the murders, though they lacked any physical evidence to link them to the crimes. In a forced confession during which an Austin officer held a gun to Robert Springsteen's head, Springsteen confessed, and he and two others were indicted.

Since then, Jeannine Scott, Michael Scott's wife, has joined the Campaign and has been an invaluable asset in our work. The highlight of our campaign so far has been a teach-in about the case, where about 50 people, including some members of the slain girls' families, learned the truth behind this heinous travesty of justice.

We won't stop until all three of these innocent men are freed.